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CHRISTIANITY BECOMES DOMINANT (2 of 7)

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Constantine and the Nature of Jesus

Annoyed with the disagreement among the Christians over the question of the nature of Jesus, in the year 325 Constantine called for the Church's first ecumenical (general) council. Of Christianity's 1,800 or so bishops, 318 attended the conference – most of them from the eastern half of the empire. Constantine presided over the meeting. One group of bishops, led by the bishop Arius, claimed that God and Jesus were separate beings, that because Jesus was God's son there must have been a time when Jesus did not exist. Another group of bishops could not accept the notion that Jesus had been created from nothing and insisted that he had to be divine and therefore a part of God.

The bishops allowed Constantine the role of Church theologian – he was, after all, emperor. And he decided against Arius. For the sake of unity, Constantine decided that Bishop Arius and his supporters would be allowed to remain within the Church and would not be forced to recant, but those bishops who refused to sign the settlement at Nicaea were to be exiled. Constantine also ruled that various other Christian groupings who did not conform to established doctrine would be considered heretics and would have their meeting places confiscated.

With the power of the state behind them, the bishops extended their authority within the Church. Cutting off the possibility of common Christians choosing their own bishop, the bishops ruled that in no province of the empire was anyone to be made bishop except by other bishops within that province. The bishops granted to the bishop of Alexandria papal authority over the eastern half of the empire, and to the bishop of Rome they granted papal authority over the western portion of the empire.

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